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Being the change you want to see in the workplace.

By Aidan Wiese

When it comes to establishing work culture, like with many things, one of the most important and easily achievable strategies is being the change you want to see in the workplace.

Four WAPA employees took this to heart when they selected an offering from the Leadership Development Program in July 2021 as part of the Senior Leadership Development Program. The applicants selected The Positive Leader: Deep Change and Organizational Transformation program offered by the University of Michigan Ross School of Business.

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the course also met an essential criterion that WAPA’s Leadership Development Program was looking for: it was entirely virtual.

Though the program usually spans one week as a daily in-person experience, the evolving COVID situation changed this round’s offering instead to be a 10-week virtual program that met once a week for four hours.

Several participants partially credited the pandemic situation as a motivating factor for their selection of this program.

“When it was offered during the peak madness of the pandemic, there wasn’t a lot of information out there, and I felt like this was what was needed at the time,” said Director of Transmission & Construction Marc Kress. “I really enjoyed the format they offered as a result of the pandemic, and I hope they offer it like this again in the future.”

During the sessions, participants were assigned an exercise for the following week and would come back and share their results in breakout groups. They shared things that worked or didn’t work with each other, teaching what they had learned in order to retain it better.

One such exercise focused on developing strong relationships and the importance of those in completing objectives.

“My biggest takeaway was the importance of establishing high-quality connections with family, friends and employees,” said Vice President of Information Technology – Infrastructure Greg Hansen. “High quality connections lead to trust and trust leads to improved performance.”

The training revealed that not only do relationship building and positive leadership approaches benefit the individual employee, but they also help the organization as a whole.

“There’s data to support that positive leadership and culture can increase productivity, profits and morale,” Kress noted.

“I’ve seen the benefits of positive leadership at WAPA, and it was nice to see a program that defined that better and helped you see what positive leadership can do for your work relationships when it comes to getting stuff done,” said Vice President of Project and Asset Services Chris Lyles.

Additionally, the program provided attendees with practical tools to better harness the skills of diverse team members.

“They also taught you to be better at soliciting help from people. They talk about how and why it’s good to ask for help and to crowdsource and use people around you to help solve problems rather than trying to take it all on yourself, which is what I tend to do,” Lyles said.

As another homework assignment, participants were asked to write and send out a reflection on their “best self” to up to 20 people at work or in their personal lives. They then asked those individuals to give feedback on when they had seen those employees at their best.

“All the feedback I received was about being kind, empathetic – nothing about the technical things I knew,” Lyles said. “People emphasized that they really appreciated the emotional intelligence that I bring to the table and see other attributes in how I lead as more valuable than the technical expertise that I often think is valuable.”

Similar to the Strength Finders leadership tools familiar to many at WAPA, the Ross School of Business program gets people to buy into their own positive attributes.

“I like to think about what I can do, not what I can’t do. Otherwise, it’s burned out, wasted energy you don’t need,” said Vice President of Reliability and Compliance Brent Sessions. “You may as well focus on what you can do and what is in your ability to do.”

The training reinforced that positive thinking about oneself and others, as well as small actions taken to assist teammates, brings positive results.

“The number one thing they teach you in leadership class is that being a leader is not about you. It’s about inspiring the people around you to be their best. It’s about being authentic,” Sessions said. “If I can help people solve their problems or avoid their mistakes, all the better.”

“It was eye-opening and humbling to hear that people recognize the things you did,” shared Kress. “Sometimes those things you do for others in your everyday go unnoticed, and it was really eye-opening to me as a manager to realize that the people I work with need to hear that too.”

The group, which included executives from corporate America, was also asked design their own experiments. Sessions assigned himself to make two people laugh each day.

“Laughing has direct positive physical benefits. Humor doesn’t mean I don’t take the job seriously,” Sessions said. “It’s because I take the job so seriously that I use humor, and my employees perform better because of it.”

The training also gave the WAPA participants new ways of looking at time management, including an analogy about filling a jar with rocks, pebbles and sand.

“The jar represents your day, and the rocks, pebbles and sand represent the activities you perform to fill your day,” Hansen said. “If you start your day with ‘sand’ activities, such as worrying about emails, you may not have time for ‘big rock’ activities, such as projects and strategic thinking.”

WAPA’s Leadership Development Program launched the SLDP again this year and sponsored the course in its traditional in-person capacity from Oct. 2-7, 2022. The SLDP program will run again in this fiscal year, with more information to come.

“I’ve found all the classes they’ve selected to be very beneficial. We need to make sure our culture is maintained or enhanced, especially with all the changes our organization has faced,” Sessions said. “I’ve taken several leadership classes, and this is one of the best I’ve ever taken.”

Note: The author is a secretary who works under the Miracorp contract.

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Last modified on March 13th, 2024